250 years ago, the British Museum
opened its doors to the public for the first time. From the very beginning the Museum has always sought to make its collection as accessible as possible to a world public. Continuing this tradition, China: Journey to the East, supported by BP a China now legacy project, is a unique touring exhibition of over 100 objects from the British Museums collection, which offers visitors the chance to experience one of the world's most important and influential civilisations. The exhibition will tour to six venues across the country and is the largest UK loan of Chinese material the British Museum has yet undertaken. China has been a major influence on many parts of the world, including Britain, where Chinese Diaspora communities form a vital part of the countrys history.
China has always played a central part in the Museums collection. The exhibition will feature objects from Sir Hans Sloanes founding collection as well as objects which have never been seen outside the Museum. 3,000 years of Chinese history and culture are explored through five themes that will resonate with audiences of all kinds:
Play and performance
Belief and festivals
Food and drink
Language and writing
The exhibition presents key enduring Chinese inventions such as the abacus (the worlds first calculator) the compass, and silk and porcelain manufacture. Objects will provide insight into the three main Chinese belief systems: Daoism, Buddhism and Confucianism and will shed light on the colourful Spring Festival (Chinese New Year), and the important Mid-Autumn Festival.
Finally, the exhibition will investigate the development of China's writing system and its development as an art form through objects that range from an ancient oracle bone to an example of calligraphy written by Mao Zedong.
Object highlights include:
A rare roof tile in the form of Guan Yu riding his horse. Guan Yu was a great general and hero, who was later deified and worshipped. Made in north China, Ming dynasty between AD 1490 and 1620
Extraordinary 1300 year old jam tarts in the form of food offerings. Xinjiang, China, Tang Dynasty AD 725775
A beautiful stoneware incense burner modelled in high relief with a dragon and phoenix. China, Ming dynasty AD 1491
Wonderfully detailed shadow puppets made of donkey hide in the form of a sedan chair with sedan carriers. Hubei province, China, circa AD 18501950
Abacus made of wood with porcelain beads decorated with dragons and metal rods. Made in Taiwan by Qian Haosun, AD 1984
Along with loan material from the British Museum, the partner museum will incorporate parts of their own Chinese collections to complement the exhibition. Handling collections will allow visitors to experience the displays through sights and sounds, touch and smell. Visitors will have fun learning about 2,000 years of play in China, from Han Dynasty (206 BCAD 221) models of figures playing board games to shadow puppets from the 20th century. Other displays will explore Chinese traditions of eating and drinking and provisions for the afterlife. The public programme at each venue will include performances of shadow puppetry with puppets specially commissioned in China.
Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum said: "China's history is one the world needs to know, now more than ever. Through the loan of important objects from the British Museum's collections and complementary items from regional sources, this exhibition will give UK audiences an insight into China's cultural achievements over 3000 years, promoting the teaching of China at all levels across the curriculum."
Kate Brindley, Director of Bristols City Museum and Art Gallery said "We are delighted that Bristol visitors will have the opportunity to learn about Chinese culture through these stunning items from the British Museum. China is important to us in Bristol, not only because of the city's resident and student Chinese populations, but because we are twinned with Guangzhou, one of China's foremost manufacturing and trading cities."